A Blueprint to Thrive

“The vitality of our region, and the strength of our rural economy, depends on everyone being able to contribute, and it starts before birth. We need to ensure all our kids — our Indigenous children, our seventh-generation immigrant children, and our first-generation immigrant children — get the best possible start to life.’’ — Southwest Initiative Foundation President Diana Anderson

The American dream of individual enterprise has shaped our social consciousness for many centuries. There is a widespread notion that if we work hard, we can all achieve good health, wealth, education, housing, and transportation.

For many Minnesotans, the state is a great place to live because of opportunities built by early railroad, lumber, and milling operations that have led to several strong corporations headquartered here.

The reality, of course, is that Minnesota has been selective about offering prosperity, safety, and opportunity, regardless of in which era a family arrived. Despite frequently ranking well for quality of life, there are obstacles that impact large portions of our rural and urban residents, such as:

  • Ongoing pay gap for women
  • Limited income for disabled, elderly, and rural communities
  • Health issues and reduced education access for people living in poverty
  • Arrests in targeted communities that lead to life-long limits
  • Reduced access to prenatal care and early development, leading to a long path of unprepared students
  • Long-term reduction of funds for education

Increasing rents and health care costs, financial dependence of extended family members, and student loan debts ensure that the “opportunities” narrative understandably devolves into stories of resentment, depression, and hopelessness.

This exponential loss of healthy taxpayers and trained workers needs to be reversed. For one practical reason, the individuals who “make it” cannot sustain a state filled with community members who are struggling.

Rather than working in isolation, a sustainable system requires a more village-oriented approach — rather than individualistic — to enable all to thrive.

Poverty does nothing to boost the economy.

The Thriving by Design Network has launched a Minnesota Equity Blueprint for policy that offers data about what is wrong, and case studies of what is being done to make things right. Some of its suggestions are offered here.

We also offer solutions designed to strengthen our communities, led by Minnesota women — and a quiz to see what you know about Minnesota numbers.


CHILDCARE

According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Center for Rural Policy and Development, the number of childcare providers statewide has dropped by more than 25 percent since 2006, largely because providers can’t make a living. The median hourly wage in Minnesota for a childcare worker is $11.44 per hour, or $23,795 per year. More than 85 percent of  Minnesota’s childcare workers make less than $20,000 annually. This sector tends not to pay benefits.

Some Blueprint suggestions:

  • Offer parent-directed scholarships to expand access for children from low-income families to high-quality programs
  • Subsidize or offer free licensing

Find other locally driven solutions here.


EDUCATION

In Northfield, college enrollment rates were low among high school students of color. In 2005 the district graduated only 27 percent of Latino students; 38 percent of low-income students dropped out before their senior year.

To combat this disparity, several programs were combined 15 years ago to provide support for every student — including early childhood development, individual tutoring, mentoring, and early college credit programs. In 2017, 97 percent of the students in this initiative graduated on time, 90 percent of graduating seniors applied to college, and 100 percent of those who applied were accepted to college.

Some Blueprint suggestions:

  • Expand state seed funding to support community-developed programs invested in early learning for low-income families, and training for technology, trades, and entrepreneurship
  • Invest in inclusive access to high-demand, long-range careers, such as renewable energy construction, long-term care workers, child-care workers, teachers of color
  • Close the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately sends children of color out of school, including the replacement of school officers with community-based elders
  • Increase funding for school-based support for mental health, food, and housing needs

AGRICULTURE

Farming has been a foundation of Minnesota’s economy since the 1800s. Today, agricultural production and processing in Minnesota accounts for $57.5 billion in sales and more than 147,000 jobs. Agriculture is Minnesota’s leading export industry. Slightly more than half of Minnesota’s land is farmland.

Yet in Minnesota, net median income for all crop growers dropped by half between 2016 and 2017, despite near-record yields, according to the University of Minnesota. Nearly half of Minnesota farms did not generate enough income to meet their debt commitments in 2016. Small dairy farmers are facing extreme pressure, since milk is selling below the cost of production and many processors favor larger dairies.

Farm consolidation is a challenge. In 1978, there were just under 100,000 farms in Minnesota. In 2017 there were 73,200.

Some Blueprint suggestions:

  • Provide support to programs that build bridges between rural and urban communities, such as Minnesota’s Farm to School program, which connects farms seeking to sell healthy foods to school districts
  • Target support towards immigrants and refugees who are seeking agricultural opportunities
  • Make climate action profitable for  farmers,  such  as the University  of  Minnesota’s  Forever  Green  initiative  for perennial vegetation, carbon capture incentives, and increased funding for water quality and conservation efforts

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Data from the 2017 Federal Reserve’s Small Business Credit Survey shows that 72 percent of Minnesota small businesses applied for a loan or line of credit from a small bank. Community banks are responsible for about 40 percent of lending to small businesses. It is difficult for small businesses to secure loans from larger banks.

Nationally, it is roughly twice as difficult for Black business owners to secure a loan as white business owners. This is partly because home ownership, which can be used as collateral for loans, has also been difficult for Black entrepreneurs to secure.

Some Blueprint suggestions:

  • Establish a publicly owned bank, such as that in North Dakota, which offers loans to college students, farmers, and small businesses. Other public banks are being founded in California, Washington D.C., New Jersey, New Mexico, and Washington state.
  • Support community banks and credit unions
  • Enforce a Minnesota statute that calls for 25 percent of public spending to be allocated to businesses owned by women and people of color
  • Invest in technology and infrastructure in Greater Minnesota, to help businesses survive

Find another local solution here.


Find the full Blueprint in PDF form.

Find Blueprint policy suggestions here.

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